Finding heart disease sooner with ultrafast imaging
While a regular CT scan, MRI or even an angiogram can often detect blockages in the coronary arteries, these imaging methods are less capable of early detection of atherosclerosis (coronary artery blockage). This is because the heart and coronary arteries are in constant motion, making it difficult to capture detailed images of what might be a very mild blockage or a lesion that could develop into a blockage over time.
With ultrafast CT scanning, the imaging is timed with the cardiac cycle and the scan can “freeze” a particular view of the heart. With this precise moment captured, the radiologist (person reviewing the image) can see the inside of the artery as well as the walls of the arteries and can better determine where there is calcium buildup (which is often an indication of atherosclerosis) or other changes in the vessel wall.
Your doctor may want you to have an ultrafast CT scan if you are at risk for coronary artery disease but you don’t have any symptoms. The ultrafast CT scan may also be recommended after a heart attack to see how much damage there is to the heart. The test may also be used to determine whether coronary artery bypass grafts (CABG) were successful.
What happens during ultrafast CT scan
Similar to a regular CT scan, there is no special preparation needed. Before the scan you will have electrode patches placed on your chest to measure the electrical activity of the heart. You will lie down on a table that glides into a giant white “donut.” While you’re lying there, the technician will take “ultrafast” images of your heart beating at different intervals. In some cases, you may need to receive an intravenous (IV) line for contrast dye to be injected in through a vein in your arm and up to the heart to allow for greater visibility and clarity of the images. The whole process takes about 15 minutes. You will be awake throughout the procedure and will be able to drive yourself and resume regular activities the same day.
Once your results have been reviewed by the radiologist and provided to your doctor, you will have another appointment with your doctor to discuss the results and determine a treatment approach, if needed.